Project Canterbury

Discerning the Lord's Body
The Rationale of a Catholic Democracy

By Frederic Hastings Smyth, Ph.D.
Superior of the Society of the Catholic Commonwealth

Louisville, Kentucky: The Cloister Press, 1946.

Chapter X. Material Basis of Metacosmesis


IT IS NOT ALONE in the unredeemed environment that we can see the vital part which the material basis of human, life plays in the work of man's redemption. The entire process of Metacosmesis within the Memorial of Our Lord's Body and Blood is borne along through its full cycle in a movement rooted deeply within the material level of creation. [Matter is here to be defined in its basic Aristotelian sense. It is the principle of individuation within our world. Matter, in the Aristotelian usage, is not confined to the designation of sensible things. There is matter which is only intelligible. For example, the matter of a species is its genus. Cf. Hugh Tredennick, M.A., Introduction to Loeb Classical Library Edition of the Metaphysics, vol. I, p. xxvii.]

At the time of their Memorial, Christians, offer and present themselves, their souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice to be accepted of God through the door of the Incarnation of His Son. [Canon of the Anglican Mass.] But this presentation cannot be consummated merely by the repetition of words and by subjective acts of renewed self-dedication. The natural substances of bread and wine are the things which are moved to the Altar and which are thus objectively and concretely put forward to Our Lord. These are the basic gifts for which He waits.

In the prior individual and social work required in producing or obtaining these material things, virtues have (or have not) been exercised; intellectual and spiritual growth has (or has not) been achieved. All the spiritual structure which has thus emerged during the preparation of the [150/151] material gifts moves to Our Lord by necessary concomitance with the substances of the bread and wine. But the spiritual structure cannot be presented in such form as effectually to transgress that wall of partition between the level of our fallen world and the level of the divine life, except it be borne up to the door of Our Lord's Altar under the forms of those material gifts wherein it has come to reside, material gifts which, by Our Lord's institution, are the basic objects demanded from the Divine Community for His Memorial. All other outgoing spiritual movements, whether of heartfelt devotion, of aspiration, of prayer, of resolution for the future, of Christian moral sanctity, are received by God Incarnate concomitantly with the material gifts of bread and wine.


It is of paramount importance to discern the essential connection between the spiritual structure which emerges within the process of preparation of the offered bread and wine, and the concrete portions of the material offerings themselves. These material objects are the bearers of the spiritual structure in the movement of the Offertory. Without these material bearers the spiritual gifts of the Divine Community have no means of moving towards their consummation within the succeeding Consecration. To suppose otherwise is to reduce the Memorial from its position as the great central functional Act of Our Lord's social body to the position of a mere vivid piece of ritual.

If the latter view be held, the really basic process of the Memorial is a spiritual meeting between God and man, a meeting which parallels the material ritual while the bread and wine lie upon the Altar as passive reminders of the life and death of a great leader and Prophet of long ago. This Prophet then points the way, but He does not open it concretely here and now through a materially mediated door leading out of the disordered bondage of our material world. This "spiritualized" view of the function of the natural bread and wine is radically sub-Christian. For it would [151/152] leap over the historically attested necessity of a material Incarnation. It forgets that full many a great Prophet before Our Lord pointed the spiritual path to God. Yet it is precisely because it is not possible to establish a perfect union between God and man upon a "purely spiritual" basis--or even upon the basis of the deficient material sacrifices of the Old Covenant of Israel--that God's Son perfected upon Himself a Body of human flesh. Full functional union with this perfected Body must still be achieved upon a like material basis. Since the ascension, this basis is always provided by that bread and wine which bear the ever-growing content of Our Lord's social humanity into the full and absolute union with Him in His Memorial.

Therefore, we must seek to banish completely the error of thinking in terms of two processes, one a spiritual and one a material, which merely parallel each other, either within Our Lord's individual Incarnation, or within that Memorial which extends the Incarnate life to His social humanity and thus makes it functionally accessible to all other men still held in the flesh of this present world. In Our Lord the spiritual and the material are completely one. He is but One Christ made man for our salvation. For natural man to attempt some kind of short-circuited, "purely spiritual," union with God apart from Our Lord's human Body as the bridge or way of that union, is a mere futile and ignorant presumption. A perfected, functional union of fallen humanity with God has to be re-effected through His Incarnate Body. The first Offertory for this Body was of matter drawn from the individual human body of Our Lady. The continuing Offertory of the Divine Community is likewise concretely presented under the forms of the matter of its corporately prepared bread and wine.


At the Consecration of His people's offerings, Our Lord moves to receive them into the second stage of the redemption process, into the absolute perfection of His risen humanity. This is the movement of His Sacrifice and it too is based upon the emergence within the offered bread and [152/153] wine of the Substances of His Body and His Blood. The whole spiritual structure of the content of Our Lord's social humanity here offered is received into the wholeness of the risen and ascended Christ. But the whole Christ becomes present at the Consecration by a living--and therefore necessary--concomitance with the Substances of the individually assumed Body and Blood of His Incarnation. The absolute perfection of the people's spiritual offering is effected as this offering moves sacrificially into the fullness of Our Lord's risen and ascended life. And this too is a process which moves by concomitance with a simple basic movement deep within the material level of the Memorial. The spiritual movement from the level of man's natural state into the level of Our Lord's ascended humanity is effected by concomitance with the basic movement whereby the natural substances of the bread and wine of the Offertory are terminated in the Substances of the Body and Blood of the Consecration. [St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, III, Q 75, Articles II and III.] The spiritual movement of the life of man from a contingent to an absolute perfection within the Incarnate life of God is here borne along upon the movement of the natural substances of offered bread and wine into the Substances of the Incarnate Body and Blood. Thus in the Consecration as in the Offertory, a basic movement in the material level of the Incarnation is the necessary bearer of the concomitant movement within the spiritual superstructure. And apart from this material basis, the spiritual movement alone cannot of itself be carried through. Finally, in the succeeding Holy Communion, the members of Our Lord's social humanity receive their offered Gifts now consecrated and returned to them by Him. They thus receive the ascended Christ in His wholeness. And in union with Him, they receive their own sacrifices absolutely perfected in Him in the second stage of man's redemption. They here receive both Our Lord's life and their own lives again, given back out of the level where they have been received into Our Lord's absolute perfection, that they may further carry forward the still [153/154] remaining work of His redeeming Incarnation within the level of the natural human world. But here again, the bearers of this return Gift in the Holy Communion, the Gift of Our Lord in His wholeness united with the absolutely perfected offerings of His social humanity, are the Substances of the Incarnate Body and Blood. The basic movement is still within the material level. Therefore, a mere parallelism between the spiritual and material processes of the Memorial must be excluded from our thought. These "two processes" are but two aspects of one single process. They are inseparably united. And furthermore, instead of the movement in the spiritual level being operationally the primary one, it is quite the other way around. The movement in the material level of the Memorial is the necessary bearer of the spiritual movement. In this sense the movement in the material level has the primary importance.

The relationship between the spiritual and the material aspects of the Memorial is analogous to the relationship between the field or carrier waves of a radio broadcast, and the overtone waves or short variations which are modulated upon that field. It is the short-wave modulations which enable the original sound effects to be reproduced in the radio receiving apparatus. In this context they correspond to the movement in the spiritual level of the Memorial. The field waves, being themselves invariable, have no audible effect. They correspond to the material level of the Memorial. Yet without the field or carrier waves there would be not only no sound effects, but no transmission could take place at all. In one sense the overtone modulations are the most important things in a radio broadcast, since it is by means of them that all the sound effects are reproduced. But in a deeper sense, the carrier waves are the most important, since without them there could be no broadcasting whatever.


Likewise, in the whole process of Metacosmesis, the fulfilling of the spiritual redemption of man is in one sense [154/155] the most important element, since man's highest faculties are those of the free movements of his rational soul. But in the Sacramentally operational sense, the substances of the bread and wine of the Offertory and the Substances of Our Lord's Body and Blood in the Consecration and Holy Communion, are basically the most important thing; for without the movement of these within the material level of the Memorial, there could be no fully rounded out movement of the spiritual elements of human life within the redeeming cycle of Metacosmesis at all! [The word movement is here used in its Aristotelian sense of change. The notion of successive change in spatial position is not necessarily involved. Spatial translation is only one kind of change, and does not necessarily involve substantial change (or movement) in the thing moved.]

For these reasons we should not hesitate to call Our Lord's Memorial a unique apparatus provided by Him as essentially necessary to the fulfilment of the redeeming action of that portion of His social humanity which continues His Incarnate life within this world. But it is, of course, more than an apparatus; for this term is usually reserved for inanimate machines. The Memorial is a living organ of a living social body. We have already compared it to a heart. The analogy should be extended to include the whole respiratory system; for the life-blood which it pumps is revivified as it is sent on its way.

Like the organ of any living body, the operation of the Memorial is based upon a set of dynamic relationships within the material world. Like a heart it pumps the life-blood of its body. It draws the matter for its action from its body under the forms of that bread and wine which issue from the life-process of Our Lord Himself growing Incarnationally within His Community. It draws these into itself at the Offertory, as perfected but contingent things. Then, like a heart in conjunction with the respiratory system, it further perfects the matter which it receives. It is able to send forth consecrated Bread and Wine, the Substances of Our Lord's risen Body and Blood. And with this fresh surging tide there flows the whole and Veiy Christ, [155/156] giving Himself again in Holy Communion to His social body; and with Himself that added content of His Incarnation just received from the same His social body, but now absolutely perfected in His risen life.

A living heart we might say pumps "only" material blood. It is certainly true that the circulation of material blood is the heart's basic function. Yet that necessary blood is the bearer of health and sanity and of all the creative vigor of the living body. The heart by concomitance pumps life itself. Likewise the Memorial effects a movement "only" of substances within the material level of man's life. These movements involving the substances of material things are truly the basic functions of the Memorial. Yet these substances are the bearers, not of mere human vigor, but by concomitance, of the re-creative and redeeming life of Very and Incarnate God, taking fallen men into an ordered vitality which overflows both the limitations of the natural world and the bonds of destroying time; and spreading within Our Lord's social humanity the power of an absolute perfection sent flowing back into its earthly organism out of God's eternity.

Herein lies the reason why the reperfection of the material basis of human life in and through the Divine Community assumes an importance of such primary dimensions. Herein is found the basis of the observation of the late Archbishop William Temple that "Christianity is the most avowedly materialistic of all the great religions." [Nature, Man and God. (London, 1934) p. 478.] For in the continuing process of the redemption of the world the substances of material bread and wine and the Substances of the Incarnate Body and Blood of God are the unique and indispensable vectors whereby all other elements in the ordered life-structure of Our Lord's Divine Community are conveyed into the level of His absolute perfection. And they are likewise the vectors whereby His re-creative power is returned to inform the further redeeming growth of that same His social humanity which presents its Offertory to Him. Such material vectors, as they take form within the natural level of human life, must therefore be made worthy of their high [156/157] functions. For it is through their appointed material mediums alone that a redeemed humanity in its re-created wholeness is made to partake of the eternal Godhead of its risen and ascended Lord.


There is therefore an urgency that the Memorial be regularly and heedfully performed. There is the gravest danger in its rejection or neglect. For only as God's fallen world is brought into the living order of Our Lord's humanity can God clothe Himself anew with His creation. Only thus can man and all his works be saved from meaningless chaos and the destroying oblivion of time. There is ultimately no other door through which man may enter into that crowning perfection of Our Lord which alone can validate and fulfil his own true nature. And this necessary humanity of the Incarnation has its very being--which is Our Lord's Being--rooted uniquely in the Memorial of His Body and His Blood. For through its operation the body of the Church draws all its sustenance; and solely by its rhythmic pulse within that body does she herself live and grow as the social organism of her Incarnate Lord.

In addition to this, it is only that which is re-created within the social humanity of Our Lord, while human life still endures, which is consummated within the absolute perfection of eternity. In Our Lord's individual case the content of that humanity which rose from the tomb and which ascended into heaven was the same content which He had perfected and matured by receiving into Himself the materials of this accomplishment from His fallen natural environment. So likewise, in the case of all those who enter into that same pattern of the humanity of the Incarnation, the fullness, the richness, the variety, the accrued values of its content which are added through their allegiance, depend upon the industry with which they, by the power of the Holy Spirit, work to fill out the redeeming accomplishments of their own re-creative lives. It is these accomplishments within the continuing humanity of Our Lord which will eventually be eternalized. The content of man's [157/158] eternity--so far as his humanity is concerned--is built up out of the life-materials which are available to him for this re-creative work within this world. And if this work flags, by just so much do the human values within eternity suffer the danger of being meagre and unworthy so great a boon as their consummation in Our Lord's risen life. For unless Our Lord Himself had matured His individual life within this world, there would have been no unit of humanity, even in His case, to rise from the dead! So likewise, unless His followers in the Incarnation mature their own just shares in their contribution to its growing content, they too are in danger of finding but correspondingly little share in their participation in Our Lord's consummated humanity in His Kingdom in heaven.

Hence the urgency of Our Lord's warning that He must work the works of Him who sent Him while day remained; for when the night comes, no man can work. [John 9:4.] There is but little enough time in every human life when compared to the opportunity offered for accomplishment within the humanity of the Incarnation. This time must, as St. Paul says, be redeemed. [Eph. 5:16; Col. 4:5.] The content of every Offertory must be filled in for Our Lord's Memorial with all available redeemed values, with all available re-created accomplishments, before the night of death fall and it is then too late. For those elements of a fallen world which are potentially available, but which are not brought within the redeeming ambit of Our Lord's Memorial, may well be lost to all eternity.

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